As one of the major suppliers of strawberries to Britain’s supermarkets, EC Drummond certainly feel the heat during the summer season, especially as the appetite for strawberries picks up in time for Wimbledon.
Retaining a reliable seasonal workforce from June to September is critical to the business’ success and offering the best facilities is key for the farm in achieving that goal. Owner Ben Drummond, whose family have been farming in Herefordshire for more than 60 years on 50 hectares of soft fruit, says it’s all about creating an attractive workplace.
“People have so many options on where they can work and what they can do – they don’t have to come to a strawberry farm. In fact for a lot of people they don’t really want to come to a strawberry farm so you have got to offer them everything so they want to come here.
“It’s their home while they’re here so we give them everything you would expect them to have. Good, modern, clean facilities that are well maintained and kept up to standard and the opportunities to do whatever they want within their recreational time.”
The family business has been working with HOPS for 20 years and has always been keen to take on advice from the team. They have also gone out to Romania to visit the teams who will be working with them.
“Not many growers do it, “ said Ben about the invitations from HOPS to go out with them to meet the agents and pickers. “From our point of view, we want the people we’re recruiting to know who we are and what they’re coming to.”
With 2,000 tonnes of strawberries produced every year, EC Drummonds need to ensure there are enough hands to pick them – during the peak of the season this can involve 300 seasonal workers on the farm. And with HOPS, Ben says they have always received the numbers requested.
“We would recommend HOPS to other growers – they do what they say they are going to do. It’s as simple as that. If we ask for 50 people that’s what we get – not 38 or 72! They are good at what they do.”
But Ben recognises that it’s also important for growers to offer their best too.
“We have worked closely with HOPS to develop our retention strategy. Retention is key and return rate is also critical. We have tried to be at the forefront of improving all of our facilities and making sure our accommodation is as good as you can get anywhere – and just communicating better with all of the people involved,” added Ben.
The farm always welcomes everyone on arrival and gives them an induction, which involves being shown around the facilities. They also have a work induction, which includes a health and safety briefing. There are social events to enjoy too for those who want to get involved and over the years Ben admits they have made good friendships with those who return every year.
“We have got people here who have come to the farm for more than 10 years to do seasonal work. It’s fair to say, we have got to know them well.”